Institute plays the ideas game

July 27, 2001

The words "enterprise" and "entrepreneurial" are finding their way into a growing number of university mission statements and strategic plans. But some of the more traditional institutions, such as Nottingham University, reckon they have been in the entrepreneurial mould for many years, and that their latest ventures are simply a continuation and development of previous work.

Nottingham's latest project is the establishment of an Institute for Enterprise and Innovation, which has been given the job of helping to keep the university ahead of the enterprise game.

The institute's own mission statement commits it to engaging staff and students "in the acquisition of enterprise skills so that they are better able to realise the opportunities generated in a rapidly developing entrepreneurial culture", and to be "at the forefront of international thinking and best practice in engaging universities and businesses in the process of wealth creation".

While this may seem a tall order, Douglas Robertson, Nottingham's director of research development, is quick to point out that the university has always had strong links with industry.

It has 500 companies on its research portfolio, and last year it won £9 million worth of new projects with industry funding. But Dr Robertson also emphasises that the university is not tempted to exploit research outcomes or intellectual property for commercial ends alone.

"The emphasis is on recognising that there is more and more reason for not being an ivory tower, with public money being provided that allows for leverage. We do recognise that we need to secure more benefits from external funding. It is part of our mission to do that, but not at the cost of teaching and research," he said.

The institute's aim is to raise understanding and awareness in research and teaching of the nature and relevance of entrepreneurship in higher education, to promote long-term business partnerships, and to take entrepreneurial projects from concept to the market while providing support for students through a "concept bank".

Martin Binks, director of the institute project, said: "The area we are working on is really exciting because people realise there is a need for this entrepreneurial approach - not in a wheeler-dealer Only Fools and Horses sense, but to take ideas where appropriate and develop them into something that contributes to the economy."

The concept bank model allows students to work in small groups on live entrepreneurial projects, with the support of staff and business people.

Professor Binks said: "It's interesting to see what effect this is having on students' motivation: it's like waking them up. They are much more engaged than they would be if you just gave them historical case studies to work on."

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